Songwriting vs Producing/Arranging

Discussion in 'The Sound Hound Lounge' started by MikeVB, May 7, 2015.

  1. MikeVB

    MikeVB Supporting Member

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    I feel pretty confident as a lyricist and somewhat decent at creating melodies.

    I only recently started serious efforts at recording original material. I've decided the Songwriting is the easy part. The hard part is taking a good basic song and turning it into an actual great or even just good recording.

    I find this is true even for some originals I've played out at gigs for a few years in acoustic bands. Turning them into actual arranged rock and roll or americana songs is the tricky part.

    I'm really not even talking about the sound production so much as the molding and shaping of a song to have a good intro, turnarounds, bridges, which progression makes the best solo section, outro, when and how to modulate, etc., etc.
     
  2. Blackmore's Hat

    Blackmore's Hat Member

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    Good band mates makes that process much easier.
     
  3. ZeyerGTR

    ZeyerGTR Supporting Member

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    IMHO that's all part of songwriting, although it doesn't really matter. A few thoughts:

    1) practice, just like anything else.
    2) study songs you like and figure out what they do and why it works
    3) there are courses you can take that can give you a lot of ideas
    4) find people to co-write with who complement your strengths (my wife is much better w/ melodies, I'm better with lyrics)
     
  4. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    That's why a good producer is worth their weight in gold.

    You wrote the script - now you need someone to direct it.
     
  5. Gasp100

    Gasp100 Silver Supporting Member

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    Arranging is NOT necessarily "producing" (which I find a very ambiguous term). I have written some decent original music, I abhor lyric writing... It just comes hard for me... But I'm very good at arranging. I took a ton of raw material from my female lead singers old band and was able to fill in huge blanks, make them into songs, and record them as well. Many people write rough drafts that are really not finished, ever. Even the pros... That is why every Taylor Swift or Katy Perry song barely has more than a verse / chorus, sometimes even less than that! Listen to The Police, Sting, Eagles, Kevin Gilbert (wrote a lot of Sheryl Crow ****), etc... The music industry needs someone to bring back verse, chorus, bridge..........
    Some modern country still has decent arranging / form but most new songs are phoning that in as well.

    Many hits from Maroon 5, et al are BARELY SONGS.
     
  6. 9fingers

    9fingers Supporting Member

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    We went to a songwriter stage this evening- 5 songwriters. I never want to hear such repetitive pounding of relentless bar chords using all 6 stings in every chord on boomy dreadnoughts again! There were some decent lyrics and melodies that were devastated by insensitive, boring & heavy handed accompaniment. It was like the songwriters were so wrapped up in lyrics first, and melody second, that they forgot to listen to their own accompaniment, which pounded away on autopilot. To be effective each element, however few or many they are, has to work as a team. No part can be neglected, relegated to unimportance or mindlessly taken for for granted.

    Variation AND repetition. Spaces! Dynamic rise and fall. Contrast. Tons of stuff. All instruments do NOT have to play all the time. A guitar is allowed to stop sometimes. Instruments, especially "rhythm" guitar in the case of songwriter can interact actively with the vocals, not just mindlessly drone away.
    I find it very useful to study visual design and apply those principals to music. Looking at music like a big canvas gives me a better idea of not filling up every nook & cranny with busy-ness on top of busy-ness. We need some really strong areas & some spacious areas, a few flashes of complex brilliance framed by restful spaces. "When in doubt, leave it out" often works. Elements should relate to each other & guide the eye/ear in the desired directions.

    A great exercise is to arrange & record thought out parts, and then go back & weed out 25% of that. Space makes for clarity.

    Looking at the big picture is really enjoyable & rewarding & should to some extent be a part of the vision of songwriting. We can put people to sleep with a song or we can wake 'em right up with the same song using arrangement as a tool.

    A great chef makes presentation a big part of the experience of a meal.
     
  7. MikeVB

    MikeVB Supporting Member

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    I appreciate this and all the other posts. Being 49 and not listening to commercial radio for the last 10-15 years I'm definitely influenced by what I consider the Golden Age of pop, rock, and country songwriting from the 60s - 80s and some 90s.

    Are there any good books or online resources for learning more about the process of taking a melody and lyrics and turning them into a complete piece of art as a recorded song?
     
  8. FFTT

    FFTT Member

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    Get a copy of Traveling Wilburys and Tom Petty Full Moon Fever as a study for ideal song arrangements.

    For writing, test recording, arrangement studies, general pre-production, it helps to know your way around some sort of project recording workstation.

    Once you have a solid idea worth recording professionally, then it becomes more cost effective to knock it out in a real studio.

    Once you have 20-40 songs ready to roll, then its time to hunt down a cooperative publisher.
     
  9. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    There's a book called "Behind the Glass" which features interviews with many famous producers.

    Also, check out the "Classic Tracks" column in Mix magazine, and Sound on Sound has many very detailed articles about the recording of hit songs.

    Don Was has a quote about his production style, which I really connected with - "I take a great song, a great singer and a bunch of great musicians and put them in a room together for a few hours. They always come up with something amazing."

    Here's a great example of the interaction between musicians and how that works:

    https://vimeo.com/62817793
     
  10. Carmour

    Carmour Member

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    This echos my sentiments pretty well. Arranging/producing is a different skill to songwriting IMO. You have to be able to remove yourself from being the 'singer' or 'guitarist' and try to look at the song objectively. Maybe it doesn't really need your **** hot guitar solo.. maybe it doesn't need some of those fancy chords in the bridge? Maybe you should leave more space for the vocals to get through. The process is almost always about subtracting rather than adding. Which can be quite a hard thing if any ego is involved in the process. It is sometimes hard to have the good judgement to serve the song instead of your ego.
     
  11. ZeyerGTR

    ZeyerGTR Supporting Member

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    That's an awesome, awesome book. Definitely recommended.

    Absolutely! Somewhat related, The Art of Mixing takes a visual approach to mixing and it definitely helped me in that area.
     
  12. Gas-man

    Gas-man Unrepentant Massaganist

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    Good way to put it.

    It seems like there are a lot of songwriters who work as self-regarded auteurs when their songs could be helped dramatically by someone working with them in the producer role.
     
  13. MikeVB

    MikeVB Supporting Member

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    By "project recording workstation" are you talking about a DAW or a keyboard workstation?

    I already work in Logic Pro X.

    I play keys like I type - hunt and peck. So I've decided a Midi Controller is more useful to me than a keyboard workstation.

    I'm pretty grounded in knowing it's unlikely I'll ever be going into a professional studio or working with an actual producer. But since I've almost quit gigging I'm enjoying learning and improving at creating quality sounding songs from my own melodies and lyrics.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2015
  14. FFTT

    FFTT Member

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    Logic Pro is excellent.
    I work with a KB controller too for synth tracks, but most of my recording ATM is vocal & acoustic draft studies.

    Its tough wearing all the hats.
     
  15. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    I forgot to mention that you also get to star in it. <g>
     
  16. kcprogguitar

    kcprogguitar Member

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    There is NO substitute for recording your ideas and listening back to them with an unbiased ear. If you throw away 99% of what you record, then you're probably on the right track. Develop a critical ear, but not too critical. Look for rough gems.

    You'll learn to hear back **** when it's coming out of the speakers. Then take the rough 1% and WORK on it. Measure by measure if you have to. The diamond in your wife's ring didn't come out of the ground looking like that, someone had to take the time to cut it properly to bring out it's finest qualities.
     
  17. FFTT

    FFTT Member

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    The hardest part working solo, is not having others to bounce ideas off of,
    then being able to jam on ideas to see where it goes.
     
  18. kcprogguitar

    kcprogguitar Member

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    I've got a few people, not really friends, that I bounce stuff off of, and they me. Kind of a brutally honest club. It's hard for me to jam out ideas, mainly because most of the people I know just aren't interested in this kind of dynamic. Help me work on my stuff, and I'll help you work on yours, but NO, I do not want to form a bar band and play Bad Company songs.
     
  19. FFTT

    FFTT Member

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    Find a comfortable open mic night locally so you can test your near complete concepts with a real audience.

    Any solid song should be able to hold its own in the most basic form.
     
  20. Crowder

    Crowder Dang Twangler Silver Supporting Member

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    A good place to start would be dissassembling some of your favorite recordings to understand each element and how they fit together. Try to imagine what the song sounded like in rough demo form. Try to guess which parts were added early on in the process and which might have been added late or may even be superfluous.

    For me, it is always surprising to pull up the lyrics to a song I love and realize that there are far fewer distinct lines than I would have thought after listening to the song. Check out songs by craftsmen like Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, Neil Finn, Freedy Johnston, etc. Often times a verse is only four lines, and there are maybe 2.5 distinct verses.

    My guess is that better writers are often driven by melody rather than lyrics. They choose and arrange their songs and words to fit the strong melodies they hear in their heads. The words are stretched to carry across the melody. Not only is this more appealing to the listener's ear, but it means you don't need as many words as you might think. Finally, once you have a strong vocal melody, that melody will suggest what kind of accompanyment suits the song. If you have a long, flowing melody, a fiddle might sound better. If your melody is more monotone or broken up, maybe an aggressive mandolin would sound better. Etc.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2015

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